sound affects

bec tudor: ten days on the island: siren

Ray Lee, Siren

Ray Lee, Siren

Ray Lee, Siren

IN A FIELD OF STEEL TRIPODS TWO MEN WAIT AT THE READY. CABLES SNAKE ACROSS THE FLOOR AND STEPLADDERS REST BELOW SOME OF THE TALLEST DEVICES. DOZENS OF HORIZONTAL ARMS OF VARIOUS LENGTHS EXTEND OUTWARDS FROM THE TOPS OF THE TRIPODS, SUPPORTING AT THEIR EXTREMITIES BARE SPEAKERS TIPPED WITH RED LEDS. FOUR FLOODLIGHTS AND A CHAIN OF YELLOW LEDS, FORMING A CORDON AROUND THE INSTALLATION, PROVIDE THE ONLY LIGHT WITHIN THIS CAVERNOUS WAREHOUSE SPACE FOR SIREN, A WORK BY UK ARTIST RAY LEE.

With the efficient air of a technician at work, one man steps up to a device and switches it on: “BAAaaaaaaaaaa…” A single bold note is delivered into the still atmosphere. The musical quality is like that of a piano accordion, yet it is so perfectly pitched and consistently sustained that the source can only be artificial. As each instrument is brought to life, small torches and screwdrivers are used to make adjustments and in response to this tweaking the tonal cry of an apparatus rises or drops. Occasionally the hair-raising lilt of an air raid siren is mimicked amidst a building and discordant cacophony.

Wandering around the periphery of this installation, I approach a speaker pointing directly at me and make a remarkable discovery. This instrument’s note travels in a physical beam and when I’m in its trajectory all other noise peels away so that, despite the soup of sound around me, a single pure note is all I hear. When the workmen set the mechanical arms spinning, this phenomenon of physics, the Doppler effect, creates even more astounding results. Like the mythical siren song, for a time I hear female voices. Later, it’s a repeated orchestral cadence. Yet the synchronicity that creates these impressions is ephemeral and the beautiful illusions break down, disintegrating back into the thick aural chaos from which new patterns build.

This sensorial bombardment morphs and builds for almost 40 minutes, the tension exacerbated by the urgent flailing of apparatuses. So at the performance’s climax when the main lights are cut, the vision of tangled red tracings created by the spinning LEDs is a glorious visual delight. This magical final scene—free from mechanical operations that hitherto focused my attention—sketches in three dimensions the environment of artificial sound that’s been built before me.

The performance ends and I am thrust brusquely back into reality with an unceremonious flood of houselights. My eyes struggle to adjust, my teeth and inner ears are aching and my sternum still buzzes with vibration. I feel pummelled and perforated, not just physically, but also emotionally. Exiting into the dark Sunday evening, I’m overwhelmed with something like loneliness. The inhuman quality of this beautifully strange encounter leaves me thirsty for the warmth of human contact.

Siren, creator Ray Lee, performers Ray Lee, Harry Dawes, Queen Victoria Museum & Art Gallery, Inveresk, Launceston, Ten Days on the Island, March 27-April 5

RealTime issue #91 June-July 2009 pg. 15

© Bec Tudor; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2009